Plumlee Leaves USA Camp Inspired to Improve

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It’s a ritual for every athlete that has ever donned a Team USA jersey.

How does it feel to represent your country?

Almost without exception, the answers are safely between the extremes of uncontrollable sobbing and sudden outbursts of “U-S-A!” chants. They say it’s an honor, that there’s no better team to play for, and other such selfless nods toward the red, white and blue.

Not that Miles Plumlee – a recent add to the USA Select Team and USA Basketball’s “pipeline” of talent – didn’t say that. He did.

But the Suns’ starting center also added some refreshing honesty to the experience, a reaction not far from ours if we were handed the same jersey worn by the best players on the planet.

“I won’t lie, it’s cool as hell ‘cause this is the USA team,” Plumlee admitted. “I dreamed about the NBA but I didn’t really think about this. I know this is a baby step [making the Select Team], but to be here wearing this uniform is really special.”

Once he processed the initial euphoria, however, Plumlee recognized the opportunity for what it was: recognition and opportunity.

His presence at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas capped off a meteoric rise from his rookie year in Indiana. One year ago, Plumlee had just completed a second Summer League stint and could only hope he would log more than the 55 total minutes he’d played in 2012-13.

A trade to Phoenix opened up a starter’s role in which he flourished as an elite rebounder and shot blocker. His brother Mason – who plays for Brooklyn and was also part of the Select Team – admitted one of the Nets’ main pre-game concerns last season was Miles’ per-minute production on the glass.

As much as he progressed, the USA experience has seemingly given him a first-hand look at newer, loftier goals. Much like LeBron James in 2008, Kevin Durant in 2010 and Anthony Davis in 2012, Plumlee appears inspired to raise his game significantly after spending time exclusively with the best of the NBA’s best.

“It’s a jump,” he admitted. “These guys are really good and their games are highly refined. They know exactly what they’re doing. They each have their roles and they do them at a really high level.”

Plumlee knows he’s not there yet, but his new status in USA Basketball doesn’t require him to be. The current Select Team consists of players with three years of experience or less. The Senior National Team will, on extremely rare occasions, pluck a player from its younger counterpart, but the main purpose is to identify up-and-coming talents and get them familiar with the program.

It doesn’t hurt that Plumlee has a head start with this particular team’s schemes. He played for USA Head Coach Mike Krsyckchie at Duke, where many of the same principles are executed.

“I do feel like I’m back at Duke, a little bit,” Plumlee said. “I’m running around a lot, setting a lot of screens. The defensive schemes are the same. I think that’s an advantage.”

Plumlee Stops Jabari at the Rim

He knows that past experience must be met with future progress. It’s not news that his competition for a roster spot consists of the best players in the world. It’s how they’re the best that has Plumlee mentally charting a course to join them.

“I think a lot of it is just finding your niche, knowing who you are as a player and taking it to the highest level,” he said.

Plumlee’s practice competition illustrates the point. Anthony Davis is one of the best shot-blockers and pick-and-roll big men. DeMarcus Cousins is an expert at using strength and speed to get wherever he wants to be on the floor. Andre Drummond has a relentless motor.

All of those players have added to those foundational skill sets. Plumlee looks forward to doing the same.

“There’s some things that [Mason and I] could do right now to help the team,” he said. “It’s just expanding your game, being able to do more things.”

If Team USA wins the FIBA World Cup in September, Plumlee will have two years before the next international competition to show how far he has come. He recognizes that time as important, especially with just one solid season of NBA play under his belt. Sustained excellene, he deems, was the key for the players heading to Spain next month.

“Going through the NBA, they gain trust in you,” Plumlee said. “Seeing you do stuff consistently for a year, they know you can do it. You can’t figure that out in just four days. All these guys on the court over there, they’ve proven themselves for years in the NBA.”

In Phoenix, he has the time and opportunity to do the same. Plumlee sees Channing Frye’s departure as further motivation to “expand my range” to at least 15 feet in order to keep defenses honest. That would be a bonus after opposing gameplans only had to account for his rolling attacks to the rim and/or offensive putbacks.

At Summer League, Plumlee also made a concerted effort to look for cutters while holding the ball in the low post. This quietly motivated the offense to keep moving. Teammates would see the big man looking over his shoulder, giving them the hope that if they stayed in motion and wound up open, they would get the ball.

Such improvements had their motivations before. Plumlee is one of the Suns’ many gym rats and likes to improve. He also gets a laundry list of drills and notes from the assistant coaches, most notably Mark West and Kenny Gattison.

Now, he has another reason to take another leap in his career, and it comes wrapped in red, white and blue.

“I want to make the real team someday,” Plumlee said.